Outside of the financial sector, there are three main advantages to blockchain technology. Information encoded within the blockchain is simultaneously transparent, private, and largely able to act autonomously.
This makes blockchain a natural fit for the struggling healthcare sector, which continually finds itself beset by boatloads of information that must be handled quickly and discreetly.
Although the medical sector is conservative by design, blockchain technology is making slow inroads. In a surprisingly short period of time, it might very well transform the way we care for ourselves and each other.
Blockchain healthcare solutions could be a long-term trend that is worth watching. Healthcare is a diverse industry that lacks any sort of central record keeping system. In some cases, doctors keep individual patient records that can be hard to access, even for the patient!
Having easy access to medical records can make a big difference in emergency situations. Unfortunately for patients, hospitals and other healthcare providers face an uphill battle when it comes to accessing medical records that should be the property of the patient.
Electronic Medical Records (EMRs) are a step in the right direction for patients, but to date, there is still no central clearinghouse for sharing EMRs quickly. According to a recent Medicare study, the average American consults seven different medical providers every year, and they aren’t able to easily share records within their healthcare team.
Blockchain Healthcare Platforms Could Boost Efficiency
We might associate a computer virus with inconvenience, but it is really a matter of lost money. When the UK’s National Healthcare Service (NHS) was the victim of the ‘WannaCry‘ virus in 2017, the NHS’s services were severely affected.
A blockchain-based healthcare records platform could help large healthcare providers cope with computer viruses. Blockchain is great because it is easy to spread data over an entire network, which would reduce the possibility of a system-wide shutdown.
Blockchain-based EMRs could also help patients to access their medical data, even if they are far away from their regular healthcare provider. Even though a person technically ‘owns’ their medical data, it can be hard to gain access to it quickly. A blockchain EMR platform could act as a ‘clearinghouse’ for medical data, and deliver it to its owner in seconds.
The upside to instantly accessible medical data is that doctors anywhere could have accurate medical records, even if it was the first time they treated a patient.
Keeping Track of The Drugs
Pharmaceuticals are a very special kind of product. Most of them need to be kept in specific conditions, and they are all subject to an expiration date. Blockchain has already shown that it is a viable solution for tracking products, and it could the right technology to create a national pharmaceutical tracking system with.
Blockchain can be used in concert with other technologies like RFID and GPS tracking, as well as temperature and humidity sensors. The end result would be a comprehensive database of every prescription drug in the system, which would allow pharmacists and consumers to know that their medicines are effective.
There is also a thriving market for counterfeit pharmaceuticals, which is a very dangerous trend. Accurate tracking systems would help to combat this nefarious trade, and allow people globally to know they are getting the quality they are paying for.
New Ideas for Healthcare
The global healthcare space needs to embrace new ideas to improve the quality of care and lower prices. Many Western nations are struggling to ensure quality of care, with many people in nations like the USA finding affordable care out of reach.
Blockchain isn’t going to be a magic solution for everything that is wrong with the healthcare industry, but it can help to make records easier to create and access. Blockchain is also a better storage system for just about any industry, healthcare included.
The blockchain platforms that have been created for global logistics could be repurposed to work in other industries, for example; pharmaceutical tracking. Blockchain is a new technology, and we are probably at the beginning of seeing some big changes in how data is organized.
Ready When Hours Matter
There are some pretty nasty diseases out there. Influenza has the ability to kill millions of people, and in recent years the death tolls have been going up. The lack of a central register for health data is a big enough problem in developed nations, but in poor areas like Africa, it is a severe hindrance for global health.
An outbreak of Ebola has the ability to spread rapidly. With the advent of advanced telecommunications it is possible to share information quickly, but without a platform to monitor symptoms, catching an outbreak is more difficult that it needs to be. Now Artificial Intelligence (AI) can constantly monitor medical reports, but it needs to have access to the information to make any impact whatsoever.
A blockchain healthcare records platform could be the answer to this dilemma. If medical records are recorded on a central database, it would be simple for AI to spot an outbreak as it is happening. This would give the authorities the ability to better respond to any problem, and limit the spread of a potentially fatal illness.
Files upon Files
There’s a certain hospital in the in the popular “A Series of Unfortunate Events” novels by Daniel Handler, writing under the pen name of Lemony Snicket. This Heimlich Hospital exists for one primary purpose – to generate, complete, and file paperwork. Making people well again is entirely incidental.
It’s a not-so-subtle jab at the industry as a whole. The healthcare industry’s paperwork situation is comically tragic, as anyone who’s endured a visit to the emergency room in the last 25 years can attest.
The sheer volume of information is staggering. There are patient files, insurance forms, and prescription records to keep track of, as well as government regulations and all the bells and whistles associated with running a business.
A hospital has the potential to generate paperwork like almost nothing else, as it sits at the intersection of so many different interests.
Compounding this problem is the innate resistance to change in the healthcare field. Medicine is a conservative field, with tried-and-true solutions being preferred to emerging technologies. Chances are that you’ll still be presented with a clipboard full of forms to fill out the next time you visit the doctor.
The very issue of transferring records to electronic storage is still contentious, due to possible security breaches and the crushing amount of data that would have to be scanned or typed. For some institutions, making the shift from paper files to electronic files is just not economical.
Blockchain technology promises an easier solution, once the initial bridges of data entry and adoption are crossed. The decentralized nature of blockchain technology permits the processing and storage of vast amounts of data with relatively little overhead. Whole floors of steel filing cabinets and reams of paper could be boiled down to lines of code on a server or two interacting with the blockchain.
Missing or misplaced records could become a thing of the past due to the blockchain’s time-stamping abilities, and providing access to those files would be a snap. In the conventional system, a physical file – or even an electronic file – must be pulled, verified, and then sent to the appropriate party. Oftentimes, this duty falls to secretaries or dedicated record keepers, who are, after all, only human. Humans can only work so quickly, and sometimes, they make mistakes.
A blockchain-based filing system, however, could provide near instantaneous data transfer along a distributed ledger, as all participants enjoy access. But therein lies the next complication within the healthcare industry.
Safe and Secure
Medical records are, by law, private. This commonsense measure creates huge hassles regarding how information can be stored and accessed. At first glance, a blockchain system would seem rather inappropriate due to its distributed and open nature.
The same security that keeps Bitcoins from floating into undeserving wallets, however, could be applied to medical records. Blockchain technology paradoxically provides for simultaneously open and yet secret information. Using cryptographic hashes, private medical records could be stored in plain sight, so to speak, while retaining their owners’ anonymity.
This will seem like a big leap for medical professionals for whom the danger of hacking traditional electronic records is a concern – doubly so due to reported hacks in the crypto sphere of major exchanges.
The security of the blockchain, however, improves steadily each day. Additionally, the vast majority of so-called hacks are really phishing attacks, where the victim has unknowingly or unwittingly given up their own information. This kind of attack is hardly unique to the blockchain, and indeed social engineering is probably a bigger threat to traditional electronic and paper systems.
If you don’t think so, ask your local hospital what the policies are regarding document destruction. They are likely to be quite draconian, involving shredding and burning physical records. It might seem rather extreme, but paper systems by default generate physical records that can be stolen, copied, lost, or handed out inappropriately.
In at least one case, a janitor nearly dropped off an entire bin worth of sensitive medical documents to a recycling center, instead of shredding and disposing of them. That very human error could have resulted in a staggering breach of privacy and triggered countless lawsuits.
The blockchain’s inbuilt measures to protect against double-spending immediately counter this.
Like a real hospital, we’ve spent quite a bit of time on paperwork. How can the blockchain actually help folks to get well?
The synergies present in the blockchain should allow physicians to talk with each other and share records more quickly and accurately, ensuring a higher patient standard of care. Prescriptions no longer need to be hand-delivered or faxed if they can be communicated along the blockchain. The insurance handling process can be greatly simplified and costs mitigated, allowing some patients to seek care they might otherwise not be able to afford.
Blockchain technology also permits interoperability in the hospital setting itself. The company Medicalchain, with it’s MedToken spells out in its white paper how eliminating data bottlenecks in a hospital setting can ultimately save lives.
In addition to letting patients have full control over the medical records, platforms like Medicalchain could supercharge the medical research sector. Gaining access to large amounts of medical records to perform meta-analysis is a pain. There are loads of laws and regulations that govern access to medical records, and contacting patients on an individual basis is expensive and time-consuming.
A blockchain healthcare platform like Medicalchain would not only give patients real-time access to their medical records, it would also streamline the process of assembling large data sets for medical research, or monitoring the outbreak of dangerous illnesses.
Clinicians rely upon investigations and tests to make informed decisions about a patient’s diagnosis and possible treatment plan. Traditionally, an investigation or test should only be requested and arranged if this is going to lead to a different possible diagnosis or alternative treatment plan.
Unfortunately, even when the results of an investigation or test have returned, these are rarely shared widely with all of the health professionals involved in the patient’s care and are normally isolated, or siloed, at the institution which requested them originally,” the coin’s developers wrote.
“The patient’s quality of care suffers as a result of this. Other institutions are not aware of a patient’s complete history and in turn, this could lead to incorrect decision making, delays, and unnecessary costs for the patient or health institution. In the worst case, these medical errors can be fatal.”
Citing a study by John Hopkins Hospital, the paper went on to claim that medical errors were the third leading cause of death in the U.S. in 2016.
Slow but Sure
Blockchain adoption in the medical field is likely to be slower than average due to the nature of the industry. The immediate and long-term benefits, however, are unlikely to go unnoticed. Blockchain offers an elegant solution to keeping massive amounts of paperwork both easily available and relentlessly private.
It also promises a higher standard of care as doctors, patients, and auxiliary players gain the ability to trade information more easily.
The Hippocratic Oath boils down to, “Do no harm.” The blockchain is already proving its usefulness and security in touchy sectors like insurance and finance. It should only be a matter of time before it meets this stringent medical threshold.